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Not Home Alone: Global economic crisis slows Armenian workers’ migration

Armenian villagers, who, starting from March each year, used to go abroad to work, particularly in Russia, are not in hurry to leave their motherland this year. Closed doors and rejections await them because of the economic crisis.

Outside Armenia, people were mostly hired as construction workers, or renovated apartments on their own.

The results are clearly noticeable in Gegharkunik province, which, according to a statistical research conducted in 2002-2007 by Advanced Social Technologies NGO with the assistance of OSCE Yerevan Office, has the highest out-migration index – 15 percent of the 26,200 residents have emigrated.

The number of work migrants from the 4,975-resident Vaghashen village was 300-350 every year, but now, according to Aram Hunanyan, Secretary of the Rural Administration Body, it has reduced by 85 percent – about45 people have left.

“And there are no jobs in our region. Ordinary peasants only harvest potatoes and cabbage on this land. But last year the supply exceeded the demand and the peasants sold 1 kg of potatoes for only 40-50 dram (13-16 cent), which, naturally, is not enough to support a family,” says Hunanyan.

Residents of this village were mainly leaving for the Russian Federation to work in the construction sphere. One of them was 48-year old Armen Hunanyan, who worked on the construction of elite buildings, cottages, and roads in the city of Tver.

“This year I am not going, because I have called my friends there and they told me people are being laid off, there are no new work-places.”

He returned in November, having received his salary for 5 months – 1,890,000 dram ($6,300), of which 390,000 dram ($1,300) was spent on living there and paying the travel expenses. The rest of the money was used to start the construction of his private house. “But if I don’t go there to work again, the construction here will remain unfinished.”

He was able to find work at the Rural Administrative Body, related to enforcement of Army conscripts, where he earns 40,000 dram ($133). His wife is a schoolteacher and earns 89,000 dram ($296). The amount is enough for them to support their 3 children.

His relative, 35-year old Darvin Hunanyan, has not found a job yet. His wife, 30-year old Marine Sukiasyan, says they already have debts at the shop, because for the past 5 years the family lived exclusively on the 240,000 dram ($800) a month, which the husband earned working as a builder in Moscow.

“We have two sons – one is 11, the other is 6 years old. My mother- and father-in-law live with us and don’t get any pension yet. We have one cow and a calf, and a small patch of land where we grow potatoes,” she says.

One of the several venturing residents of Vaghashen is Sargis Hayrapetyan, 35, a father of two children – he left for Tula on March 14 to work there.

“He does wood-processing. He used to earn 300,000 dram ($1,000) before, this time they did not name any specific figure, but they warned that they would pay little,” said his wife, 35-year old Hermine Yeghiazaryan.

According to the State Employment Service data, 53 percent of the population in the provinces don’t have jobs.

According to the statistical research conducted by Advanced Social Technologies NGO in 2002-2007, about 230,000 people have emigrated from the whole territory of RA in the past 5 years. Each migrant has traveled abroad 2 times on average; 96 percent went to Russia.

The RA International Organization on Migration stated in its 2008 report that money transfers from the Diaspora account for 20 percent of the GDP, 70 percent of which comes from Russia.

“Last year the money transfers made by physical persons through banks with non-commercial purposes reached nearly 5 billion drams ($1.6 billion). Compared to last year, this year’s transfers have reduced by 25 percent,” said Zaruhi Barseghyan, the Central Bank press secretary.

In January this year, for example, 16.5 billion drams ($55.5 million) were transferred, whereas last year it was about 21 billion dram ($70 million).

Data referring to 2009 are still is the processing stage and cannot be published, and Irina Davtyan, head of the department of the RA Agency on Migration Programs of the Regional Management Ministry, says: “It is not hard to guess that the number equaling to 50-60,000 work migrants will noticeably decrease because of the economic crisis.”

In any case, according to the data on their official website, in January 2008, 6,965 left Armenia for migrant work. This January, however, only 2,686 left.

This economic “disease” has also done harm to the people who already live in the Russian Federation. For instance, a resident of Urtsadzor village in Ararat province, 30-year old Zhirayr Margaryan, according to his mother Rima Margaryan, stopped working since November and was not paid his salary – 1,100,000 dram ($3,600) – for the previous few months. “They say let him come here and work, but I don’t know if they will pay him or not,” the mother says.

Her husband’s income has also decreased, “My husband Hamlet has been a bus driver for 10 years. Now people are not going to work anymore and whereas before they sold 800 tickets and got a $1,000 income each month, now they sell 500 and get a $600 income.”

Economist Tatul Manaseryan predicts that people from rural communities will continue to face problems – unemployment, decrease of buying ability. “These issues can be solved if RA government organizes community work, if they design projects aimed at stimulating economy and create new jobs.